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Sir Syed Ahmad Khan: The Man Who Gave New Life To Muslims

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Sir Syed Ahmad Khan has been described as a thinker, educationist and social reformer, but the truth is he was and remains above all classifications and categorisations. He was a versatile genius, a visionary whose life and words are as relevant in the 21st century as they were in the 19th century.

Sir Syed was born on 17 October, 1817, in a noted Delhi family. He was more fascinated by the intellectual development of people through modern education. He was very perturbed when he observed the depressed condition of Muslims, and modern education was the only longtime solution for the ills of the distressed community.

He realised the backwardness of Muslims caused by unfamiliarity with the English language and lack of modern education kept them away from reputable posts.

Sir Syed Ahmad Khan.

As an author at the age of 23, he brought out many important books called Monuments Of The Great on the antiquities of Delhi. He published many pamphlets and the most important was The Causes Of The Indian Revolt.

In his writings, Sir Syed enlightened how the Islamic faith could go with advanced scientific and political ideas of his time because the education was incarcerated to Madarsha and scientific sense didn’t prevail among Muslims. He also published a journal named Tahzeb-ul-Akhlaq which divulged the revaluation of the social, political, economical life of Indian Muslims and adaptable European manners.

When Sir W Muir, a colonial administrator published his work The Life of Mahomet, Sir Syed was deeply hurt by Muir’s projection of Islam and the Prophet. He responded in a civilised manner with his own book titled Life of Mohammed.

He went to Europe and spent some time out there. Meanwhile, the European education system deeply influenced his mind. He came back with a conviction that English education was necessary for the progression of Muslims in India. He believed that Muslims could only improve their status and progress when they accepted western scientific knowledge and gave away superstitious beliefs.

Sir Syed faced many difficulties. He was blamed for vilifying Islamic culture by bringing English culture. Thus, he said, “Their (Muslims) fanaticism didn’t let them avail educational facilities provided by the government schools and colleges. It was necessary to make some special arrangements for their education.”

Victoria Gate, AMU

In 1864, he founded the Translation society at Aligarh, later renamed the scientific society. In the year 1877, he founded the Mohammeden Anglo-Oriental College. It was affiliated first with the University of Calcutta and then with the University of Allahabad. Sir Syed said, “From the seed which we sow today, there may spring up a mighty tree whose branches like those of banyan of the soil, shall in their turn strike firm roots into the earth and themselves send forth new and vigorous saplings.”

His words were rightly proved. The University he dreamt of became a reality, the legacy he vouchsafed has few analogues in the archives of the history of Indian Muslims. In 1920, MAO college expanded into Aligarh Muslim University. Today Aligarh Muslim University owes its unique status to him.

Sir Syed visualised the residential life as a cluster of halls each with a dining hall, library, debating club, playground and garden. Every student irrespective of caste, creed, culture, religion and region was expected to dine together. He said, “Don’t show the face of Islam to others instead show your face as the follower of true Islam, representating character, knowledge, dignity and tolerance.”

He advocated a total institution, i.e. education as well as upbringing.

Strachey Hall, AMU

Sir Syed’s words are boldly written, “Oh my dear children, you have reached a particular stage, and remember one thing that when I undertook the task, there was criticism all-around against me, abuses were hurled upon me, life had become so difficult for me that I aged before my age, I lost my hairs, my eyesight, but not my vision.

“My vision never dimmed, my determination never failed, I built this institution for you and I am sure, you will carry the light of this institution far and wide, darkness will disappear from all around.”

This summarizes his lifetime of struggles and achievements. Sir Syed Ahmad Khan, the man who gave a new life to Muslims.

Hum toh mit jayenge chaman e Sir Syed, lekin tujhe zinda rehna hai qayamat ki sehar hone tak.

Sir Syed Ahmad Khan breathed his last in Aligarh on 27 March 1898, but he is still serving and lighting up through his institutions across the world.

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